Africa Then Versus Now, In the Eyes of a Pan Am Vet (Guest Post)

Delta, Guest Posts, Pan Am

Cranky is on a much-needed vacation and won’t be responding to emails this week. Fortunately, before I started drinking too heavily, I put some posts live. Today, we’ve got a guest post from a guy who helped open up Africa for Pan Am and is now doing the same for Delta.

People often ask me what has changed in Africa over the last 25 years to make it possible for Delta Air Lines to fly to a continent that my former employer, Pan Am, largely abandoned in the 1980s. How could it be financially prudent for a major airline to invest large aircraft and resources in a continent with a gross domestic product equal to a fraction of U.S. GDP, they ask?

Vastly improved technology, stronger, consolidated global airlines and accelerating economic growth across Africa are the simple answers.

Pan Am Routes

When I began my aviation career with Pan Am in Johannesburg in 1973, Africa was still a wild frontier for Western-style commerce. Phone lines were unsecure and unreliable. Computer systems were not connected. And airport infrastructure was generally not available unless you bought it or built it yourself.

To illustrate this point, Pan Am owned Intercontinental Hotels and constructed new properties around the globe to provide appropriate crew and passenger accommodations in many of the new cities it served.

And even after 30 years of air service development, in the 1970s many flights arrived from points across Africa with little advance notice of how many passengers were on board or how many customers would be making connections. Reliable data services simply were not available between the opposite coasts of Africa in those days.

Today, many of the age-old African political and infrastructure challenges remain. But new technology, improved communications and intra-Africa geopolitical improvements are making it possible for air travel to advance the pace for expanding global commerce on the continent.

As an example, this month Delta is returning to Monrovia, marking the first time U.S. airline service has existed in this market since the mid-1980s. When Pan Am served Liberia in the ’70s, we had to physically drive between the airport at Robertsfield and our commercial office in Monrovia to transfer information because we had no reliable way to communicate between the city and the airport.

Now, it is possible to use a Blackberry to stay connected to the world as we zig zag across Liberia or any country in Africa developing service. Improved intra-Africa airline service by the likes of Kenya Airways also make it possible to do business in many parts of the continent without making circuitous flight connections back through Europe as we had to do in the early days.

Advances in aircraft also have made Africa a more attractive theater for global aviation. When I started with Pan Am we never imagined the possibility of a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft flying nonstop in both directions between Atlanta and Johannesburg. And, in 1941, my predecessors certainly couldn’t have imagined these types of advances when they launched Pan Am’s first scheduled commercial service from New York to Senegal with intermediate stops in Bermuda, the Azores and Lisbon. Operated with Boeing 314 Flying Boat aircraft, the total travel time on this route exceeded 60 hours. Yes, 60 hours.

Pan Am Africa Schedule

Today, Delta operates the same New York-to-Dakar route nonstop using Boeing 757 jets with a flight time of just over eight hours – not the three days required for the original Pan Am flight.

Pan Am served more than a dozen cities in Africa at its height, but the trail blazed to reach that point took more than three decades. In three years, Delta has grown to serve seven destinations in Africa with plans to grow to at least 10 once additional government approvals are received.

As our example shows, airlines that reach the market first, make lasting investments in infrastructure, customer service and pan-regional partnerships will create the most value for their customers and, most importantly, the African nations that so badly want to boost their economic outputs.

Growing relationships with carriers like Air Nigeria and Kenya Airways are indicators of the investments we must make beyond the airfields we serve. And the relationships the industry is building with governments across the continent mark a critical step in advancing the growth of Africa’s own aviation infrastructure in the years to come.

While I won’t be here to see the next 40 years in Africa, I’m sure they will be even more exciting than the last. There are very few places left on the globe with such promise of development as Africa. And this bodes well for airline managers everywhere.

Jimmy Eichelgruen is Delta’s regional sales manager for Africa. He is based in London but spends most of his time on planes flying to and from points across Africa. He began his aviation career in 1969 with South African Airways and in 1973 joined Pan American Airways as a sales representative advancing to Director of Sales – Africa with assignments in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Monrovia and Abidijan. He became part of Delta’s London office when the airline acquired Pan Am’s trans-Atlantic routes in 1991.

Images are from the author

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36 comments on “Africa Then Versus Now, In the Eyes of a Pan Am Vet (Guest Post)

  1. You are so right how today one aircraft can fly nonstop between two cities that used to take days to get to.

    There are places in the world that still don’t know who United, American, Delta, or Continential are, but still know and remember who TWA and PanAm are because there were there first and make lasting impressions.

    Have to go now my TWA JFK to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania flight (#880) is leaving with stops in Athens, Entebbe and Nairobi. :-)

  2. When I saw that Delta was launching service to Africa, I couldn’t help but wonder if Luanda might be an option for the carrier. There are loads of travelers in the oil and real estate development industries heading in and out of Luanda and at the moment SA and TAP are getting all the business. Coming from DCA or JFK you literally fly right over Luanda to go on to JNB and then return right back around to Luanda again. Just curious – any thoughts on the possibility of this destination opening up?

    1. Yes, Luanda is on our list. We continue to work with the relevant government authorities to be able to add service to Angola soon. Here’s our latest news release on Africa that includes the updated list of the cities we serve in Africa, as well as the ones we intend to serve once government approvals are received —

      Thanks for reading!

      1. Dear Jimmy,

        Reading this article was really encouraging! Like you I started with Pan Am, and have been working for Delta since it’s demise. I have in the past, and continue to spend, although in different countries, a lot of time in Africa and have always wondered why there are not more American Carriers flying non-stop from the US. In fact, when I was living in Dakar I kept getting stuck in Paris, because at that time it seemed that Air France was the only Airline to Dakar no matter where you lived. I always remembered thinking where is Delta in all of this? However, being a worker in the lower echelons of Delta Airlines I never posed the question to the people in charge.
        Now I am commuting to Tanzania and I am asking myself the same question, why is Delta not flying to Dar Es Salam other then on a Code Share via Amsterdam?
        Last but not least yes, there are very few places left on the globe with such promise of developement as Africa.
        May be in due time American Carriers will catch on…..

      1. CO operates a 757 nonstop EWR-CPH, 3865 mi., DL JFK-ZRH, 3933 mi. (EWR-LIS is “only” 3386 mi.) And to myriamparis and anyone else who apparently never rode a DC-8 or 707, single-aisle 6-abreast economy class was the “gold standard” worldwide for many, many years. No reports of horrified passengers!

        1. Bruce I don’t think it’s seating 3+3 as much as flying all that ways on 2 engines compared to 4 on the DC8/707’s. I don’t like flying from the west coast to Hawaii with 2-engines so I can understand someone not feeling comfortable with 2-engines going to Africa from the USA.

          1. OK before anyone says it, I know there are other 2-engines planes flying vast miles but for some reason a larger widebody with 2 engines doesn’t seem as bad as a narrowbody with 2 engines going that far.

          2. “I can understand someone not feeling comfortable with 2-engines …”

            Well, then they may just have to stop traveling by air. I love a 747, but unfortunately the bean-counters are aggressively retiring this aircraft from all world routes. A340s and the A380 flying whale may be around a while longer but that’s about it. The overwhelming and still growing majority of world routes these days are operated by two-engined aircraft.

          3. @David SF – of the twin jets operating I would rather a 757 have an engine failure than some of the wide-bodies. The massively overpowered engines of a 757 are more than capable of flying it on a single engine. This video ( of a 757 going vertical with her new RR engines is just one example out there. You won’t see a wide-body with a power to weight ratio of a 757.

        2. You are correct – I was referring to the 3 by 3, single-aisle seating configuration. And unfortunately I never got to fly in a 707 – which I find a beautiful-looking plane – unless of course I make it to Tehran before they retire that one flying routes in Iran (if it is still going strong?)

          I’ve taken the 757 across the pond a few times and was very claustrophic. Much prefer the 777s, 747s and 340s of this world for long-haul flying… that JFK-JNB route is a long one – about 17 hours if I recall.

          1. I’m not sure, but I think the 757 cabin width is nearly identical to the 707 (which was indeed a beautiful aircraft). Other factors may influence one’s feel of being cramped on a 757. I recall the first time I boarded one as the last psgr on an EA flight in the early days of 757 operations, I turned right around and fled. The jam-packed cabin was too much!

            By the way, I misspoke about the demise of four-engined aircraft. Boeing is offering the stretched 747-8 (freighter) and 747-I (psgr) to enter service in a few years. Only LH and Korean, however, have so far placed orders for the psgr version.

  3. That’s really an interesting view on Africa and how the world is getting smaller. Africa is still a blackhole in the media (at least the european media) but the hole is getting more light thanks to the internet.

  4. My wife and I just completed a most wonderful trip to South Africa to visit the country and see some World Cup matches. It’s not often that one can put a name to the “behind the scenes” logistical efforts, so our compliments to you and the Delta team for providing a World Class service to Joberg. Considering the past, it’s no short order to make everything run so smoothly. All the flights were on time and the BE cabin made the 16 hours literally fly by.

  5. Hate to break it to you guys, but Joe Branatelli at had a much better and comprehensive story on Africa earlier this summer. The past is useless. The present and future is what matters when you’re trying to fly. Here’s the story link:

  6. Perhaps Jimmy can explain why the new flight from ATL to ROB goes first to more distant ACC, with 600 wasted backhaul miles in each direction. I wonder what the Africa schedulers were smoking when they came up with that.

    (Monrovia is situated first, before Accra, as you head east along the West African coast. But the flite goes ATL-ACC-ROB. And the return goes ROB-ACC-ATL. So it’s a backhaul of 600 mi in each direction. Even a so-called Round Robin triangle routing would make more sense.)

    I can see why they don’t wanna stop in ROB before ACC, because not only does DL serve ACC nonstop from JFK and mite self-divert on a one-stop from ATL, but UA goes nonstop Dulles-ACC. So DL wants to be competitive on all ACC routes.

    It’s especially illogical, however, when you see in DL’s Africa skeds that there’s a JFK-Dakar flite that turns right around and heads back to JFK. If marketing wants to serve ROB, NY is a better and bigger market to start with–and the DKR flite could logically be extended to serve ROB, which comes after DKR on the African coast. (As your vintage timetables show, this is how PA did it for many, many years. I rode it once, the famed African Queen 747.) DL uses an overwater 757 which gets back to JFK around noon, where it probably sits for 4 or 5 hours before returning to DKR. It cud extend to ROB and be back at JFK by 4 or 5 pm, easily in time to make the evening rush back to Europe or Africa at 7 or 8 pm.

  7. As you’ve mentioned SkyTeam has been making great progress in Africa with the efforts of DL and KQ. However, Star Alliance has also made some great in-roads in Africa as well with the addition of SN, MS, SA and the soon to be new addition of ET. One has to wonder what oneworld’s strategy to continue being viable will be if they fail to get a foothold in mainland China or Africa, two of the most important markets in the future.

  8. The final word on 757 vs 707 cabin width: according to Boeing, the
    707 & 757 both have an external width of 148 inches and internal dimension of 139.3 inches

  9. Dear Jimmy
    I found this facinating reading and I loved the old Panam timetable since I also worked for Panam and having said that also for South African Airways with you in Durban before even SAAFARI-South African Airways Fully Automated Reservation Installation. Talk about call back the past!
    But I must say that my current position in representing Delta Air lines in Durban makes me proudest of all.

  10. Dear Cranky,
    Stop in for a glass of wine if you’re ever in Sarasota…..we can swap stories of the good,bad and ugly in the crasey world of aviation!We’ve been blessed to see it all in our careers! And, by the way, Delta management is re-pioneering a new and yet old horizon and doing a fine job! Africa is exciting!
    Best Regards,
    Melissa Morrill

  11. Some observations on the already-submitted comments:
    1) When referring to Pan Am, the correct name to use is either the abbreviated, Pan Am, or the full legal title, Pan American World Airways. Anything else is a sacrilege;
    2) We flew the 4-engine 707 non-stop JFK/ROB throughout the 70’s with a flight time of about 7-8 hours. The single-aisle seating configuration was 16 First Class( 2 by 2), and 124 Economy(3 by 3), worked by 2 Pursers and 4 Flight Attendants. The pitch between seats was comfortable and roomy for passengers. The person sitting by the window could get out of their seat without the other 2 people having to vacate their seats, they just turned sideways. Flying was gracious and classy. It was not the torture that it is today. The current Delta single-aisle 757A(16/150) or 757E(16/158) crams people into sardine-can seats that offer less personal space than the New York City subway. At least on the subway the train stops every 3-4 minutes and people move around and eventually have more space. Not so on the 757, which keeps people cramped for 6-8 hours.
    3) Pan Am operated flights into ROB until a civil war broke out in Liberia and the airport was endangered. The crew and plane had to be evacuated. It didn’t just “drop out” or “pull out” of Africa.
    4) Pan Am, in partnership with the US military, operated airports across Africa that were being built by the US Army during WWll. See the book “PanAfrica” by Andy Dawson. Every airline that flies into Africa has Pan Am to thank for pioneering the routes and the ATC systems that Pan Am operated for many years. Delta is reaping the rewards of Pan Am’s historic work.

    1. Thank you for reminding us of Pan American World Airways’ history in Africa. In addition to what you mentioned, Pan Am played an essential part in the creation of many of the African airlines that were critical to post-colonial Africa. I flew as a flight attendant, then purser, for Pan Am 1970-1978, but I never was senior enough to crew a flight to, from or in Africa. I did get to be part of Pan Am’s recruitment and selection of flight attendants in Africa, which was quite amazing in the non-global world of the early 1970’s. And I was a passenger on the JFK/ROB 707 flight, then hopped across Africa to Nairobi and later from Nairobi to Casablanca. All of those Pan Am flights were absolutely wonderful, just as you say. Re passenger aircraft: most of the Pan Am flights I worked were on the then-new-in-every-way 747, but I treasured every Pan Am 707 flight I could get (Honolulu to Papeete was my favorite)…we could really take care of passengers on that superb aircraft!

  12. This is definitely good for diversifying America’s overall economic environment. Depending on fewer countries and making a lot of assumptions about stability only being possible in “certain” parts of the world is why the entire global economy is rocked by the goof-ups of some. We all know that Africa was avoided. Now let’s build respectful relations. You don’t want to end up in an African jail trying to play the same games as at home, do you? :-)

  13. Lets hope Delta’s move will bring much more US airlines on the continent’s markets, and stimulate traffic.

  14. My thanks to you veterans of yesteryear!

    I work for the U.S. government and manage a program called Safe Skies for Africa. I work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration. I am proud to say that after Delta informed us that they intended to increase their service to Africa we jointly have done everything we could to help them and other U.S. air carriers such as United and Continental to expand their service to the continent. An added benefit has been to U.S. government employees and U.S. State Department personnel who must, by law, “Fly American” and are no longer forced to spend hours flying to Europe to get to our destinations in Africa.

  15. I was on Pan Am inaugural flight 150 December 1966 from JFK International to Dakar Senegal. Can any one tell me the hours to make that flight? Working on a novel of East Africa and want to be accurate. Wish I could recall what kind of plane. There were few passengers and we were treated royally, given crystal glasses for wine with Pan Am logo. Hope someone will reply by email. Thanks for your help. (This was a direct flight.)

  16. On a pam Am fb page, we,ve been having a discussion of ‘House on Sugar Beach’.Helene Cooper says she left ROB on a DC-10 on May 16, 1980; if so, it must have been an evacuation flight as we didn’t normally use DC-10’s into ROB. Anyone have any idea about evac flts in May of 1980?

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